Road to Bulgaria’s elections: The more things change…

Road to Bulgaria’s elections: The more things change…


By Clive Leviev-Sawyer of The Sofia Globe

With just more than a month to go to Bulgaria’s May 12 ahead-of-term parliamentary elections, opinion polls indicate an element of unpredictability in the outcome – except that the parliamentary scene is likely still to be dominated by the same parties who have held sway over it in recent years.

When voting is over, the big question will be whether centre-right GERB, in power from 2009 to March 2013, will be able to return to office or whether it will be outmanoeuvred by a new socialist-led coalition.

So far, it also seems clear that the “parties of the protesters” that have entered the parliamentary race after the weeks of public protests that they rallied, bringing down the GERB government, have not translated into anything close to majority electoral support.

Thirty-eight parties and seven coalitions have been registered by the Central Election Commission for the elections, but going by the polls only a few of these matter, in the sense of their chances of entering the 42nd National Assembly.

All recent polls show GERB, led by Boiko Borissov, getting the largest share of votes. The difference among the agencies is by how much.

On April 4, the National Centre for the Study of Public Opinion said that GERB’s support was unchanged at 24.4 per cent from late January, while support for the Bulgarian Socialist Party had fallen to 17.5 per cent.

Since his February announcement of his resignation as prime minister, Borissov’s approval rating rose by five points to 45.6 per cent.

The Movement for Rights and Freedoms, the party generally led and supported by Bulgarians of ethnic Turkish descent, and customarily a working partner of the socialists, had 6.5 per cent.

Volen Siderov’s ultra-nationalists Ataka, which have had a major boost from the protests, were seen as having doubled its support to five per cent.

Currently, most observers see two possible scenarios out of such poll figures. One is a return of GERB to power with Ataka as either a formal or informal ally in parliament. The other is a socialist-led coalition, with the MRF and former European Commissioner Meglena Kouneva’s Bulgaria for Citizens party as minority partners.

The odd one out among recent polls was that by the MBMD agency, which gave GERB more than 30.1 per cent, about double the electoral support for the socialists. According to MBMD, while most people sympathised with the aims of the protests against monopolies, the shock of the turbulence made them want a return to the stability of GERB rule.

In turn, the Alpha Research agency this past week said GERB had a much narrower lead, 21.9 per cent against the socialists’ 17.4 per cent. This poll showed Ataka at 5.5 per cent and the MRF at 4.8 per cent. Kouneva’s party would get just enough to get over the threshold for a few seats in parliament, according to Alpha Research.

Some pollsters have asked eligible voters about a hypothetical entry by a “party of the protesters”. There will be such an entry, although the registration of another was refused on legal grounds. To the hypothetical question, the highest possible support for a protesters’ party was 15 per cent – a significant figure but one that might not translate into reality, given serious internal divisions among those who have been involved in the protests, along the trend being suggested of Bulgarians preferring to opt mainly for more “traditional” parties.